And we’re off…

After a long but pretty painless 22 hours of travelling, we picked up our car and checked into our Chicago hotel on Monday night. A ludicrously early start on Tuesday morning meant that we were able to get breakfast before anyone else in the hotel, before heading to the interstate to join every other Tom, Dick and Harry trying to get into downtown Chicago during early rush hour. Worth it when we arrived at Chicago, though, and checked out Lake Michigan (which is massive, and also surprisingly clear), before heading to the official start of Route 66 on foot to get our photo with the sign. The guy we handed the camera to to get a joint photo took a couple of semi-decent ones, but the highlight was the one where he decided to ignore the sign altogether and just take a photo of the lamppost instead! I haven’t uploaded that one! We also went up Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), which at 1,451ft tall is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. The views of Chicago from the top were incredible, and one of the highlights of taking the elevator to the top was the so-called “sky boxes” – four kind of glass balconies that jut out from the top enabling you to walk out and see the ground 103 floors below you – quite spectacular.

After a bite to eat in the Hard Rock Cafe, we headed out along Route 66, making it a whole 0.5 miles before encountering a road closure and having to divert off the very road we’d just flown 4,000 miles to drive along! Fortunately we were back on track before long.

Once out of the city, the draw of Route 66 moves from the commercial to the wonderfully quirky or downright weird. Our first stop was at a place with a statue outside called the Gemini Giant. An imposing, 28 foot tall man wearing a helmet and holding a rocket for no apparent reason, he is the first of many random and bizarre sights people have erected alongside Route 66 in order to, basically, keep people coming back to Route 66.

The next stop, the Polka Dot Drive In, a completely unremarkable venue aside from the fact there are four life size statues outside of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Betty Boo. I can’t see any immediate connection between the four of them, especially given one of them isn’t even real, yet they stand proudly together outside this place, solely to draw people in.

We’re now in Springfield, IL. Is this the one The Simpsons live in? No, but Abraham Lincoln did, and was also buried here, so tomorrow we’re off to check out his tomb and one of the many museums that pay homage to him. Hope everyone back home is okay; don’t forget you can leave a comment below if you wish – it doesn’t matter if you give a real email address or not. See you soon!

Seven score and nine years ago.

Seven score and nine years ago Abraham Lincoln made his now infamous “four score and seven years ago” speech, two years before he was assassinated. He is considered one of America’s finest and most influential presidents, and revered in Springfield, Illinois, where he spent much of his adult life and is now buried alongside most of his family. On Wednesday morning, we checked out the Lincoln memorial and tomb where he is buried, before heading into downtown Springfield to see the Lincoln museum. We also had a tour of the house he land his family lived, which is now owned by the state.

In the way to our next stop, we called in at the Cozy Dog Drive In, which offers “cozy dogs” – kind of battered hot dogs on a stick. It was recommended by a number of guides we looked at and understandably – they were fab! Further along the road we encountered Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, a small converted petrol station where a somewhat eccentric man named Henry sits in a store with about ten rabbits selling various bits of tat and anthropomorphising the rabbits by talking about them as if they were people. A nice enough guy but possibly a little mad! Thursday brought us to the Gateway Arch, a monumental arch in St Louis just by the Mississippi river that towers 630 ft into the sky. You can reach the top of these by means of these weird capsules that seat five people at a time and are a strange cross between a lift and a Ferris wheel. From the top, though, again the views of the city were amazing and we got some brilliant photos. On the way to our stop for this evening, we stopped off at Ted Drewes frozen custard stand, a renowned venue in St Louis for delicious – which we can now vouch for – ice creams, well worth a stop. On from here to the Meramec Caverns, a set of caverns that were used quite extensively for both hideouts and materials during the American Civil War, and was also the hideout for fugitive Jesse James, though inexplicably this is never mentioned in the Cher song! As caverns go, this was pretty amazing, with some incredibly old and intricate looking stalactites and stalagmites. Finally, we checked out the World’s largest rocking chair, which like most things on Route 66 is completely random but somewhat impressive.

Having covered around abt a fifth of our 2500 mile drive, it is has been pleasant driving so far. The original Route 66 comes and goes so some of it is interstate, some of it is single carriageway, and small amounts of it is pretty much dirt track. Also, signs come and go – possibly because someone has nicked them for their collection – making it difficult to stay true to the original at times. It all adds to the experience though!

A second Springfield, this time in Missouri, is our destination for tomorrow, and I’ll try and update again when we hit Oklahoma on Saturday evening.

We’re off to see the Wizard

Our trip across America continues smoothly and we have now entered our fourth (of eight) states that we will be visiting – Oklahoma. Yesterday, we took one of only two planned detours we intend to make from the route, as we headed down to Branson, Missouri, to visit the Ripley’s Believe it or Not emporium that they have there. Basically a collection of oddities and strange things from various places in the world, which was a great way to spend a couple of hours. Whilst Scott was a fan of the tacky, Vegas-esque Branson, with its King Kong replica, its General Lee replicas and the Titanic display, I could very much take it or leave it (I wasn’t hugely fond of Vegas either when I visited). We had originally planned to stay in another Springfield, but with some spare time available and having found absolutely zero worth visiting in Springfield 2, we pressed on.

We soon entered Kansas, our third state. Route 66 only really clips the corner of Kansas, and in total only about 13 miles pass through the state. However , we probably did about 30 in total as we repeatedly failed to find the attraction we were looking for! In the end, we found it – a cool looking Rainbow Bridge that in all honesty probably wasn’t worth the numerous diversions. A few minutes later we crossed into Oklahoma, where like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz we could safely say that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. We checked into a motel in Miami (not THE Miami), Oklahoma. Also like Dorothy, we soon found our scarecrow needing a brain from the wizard as the guy on the desk first offered us a “five dollar discount” which bought our room down from $64.99 to $60.99 (hmm!) and then, after looking at a computer screen for a couple of minutes, asked me what country England was in! When we asked if the room had Wi-Fi, our Forest Gump replied yes, but then failed to tell us it needed a password so we had to go back and see him AGAIN to get this. It’s a good job we don’t have to tip desk clerks.

This evening we were treated to a very interesting and very comprehensive tour of Oklahoma City, courtesy of our good friend Jen who works in the English department but who was born and bred in OKC and who was out here visiting home for the Easter hols. Was lovely (and strange!) to see her and we also saw parts of OKC that we simply wouldn’t have dreamed of seeing by ourselves. The Oklahoma City Memorial was quite something: a tribute to those killed in the bombing of the Federal State building in 1995, it was a very serene, nicely done tribute where each person who died has an inscribed chair, situated in a position that represents where they would have been in the building at the time of the explosion. There are also some smaller chairs that represent the children who were in the nursery in the building at the time also.

We have now checked into our hotel with 1,109 miles clocked up so far, and somewhere in the region of 1,500 left to do. Amarillo is the next stop, and I’ll try and update again from the halfway point.

Is this the way to Amarillo?

We left Oklahoma City and were on our way to Texas early on Sunday morning. Our next stop was Amarillo, which of course meant listening to THAT song a couple of times. In Amarillo there is the Big Texan Steak House, which basically offers a 72oz steak and a tonne of sides for free, provided you can eat it within one hour. It has been featured on Man Vs Food, but almost a stone of steak is way too much for either of us so we took to the all-you-can-eat steak buffet instead. Amarillo also homes Cadillac Ranch, where some eccentric millionaire took 10 Cadillacs and buried them nose first into the ground. People are allowed to go up to them with spray paint cans and basically graffiti them, which is exactly what around 20 people were doing when we got there. As a result, the Cadillacs are ever changing and we saw one girl graffiti her name onto one of the Cadillacs, only to find that 15 minutes later others had graffitied over it and it could barely be made out any more. Bizarre, unique and very Route 66.

Speaking of bizarre, our journey to Amarillo took us via a museum largely dedicated to barbed wire (and we managed to spend an hour in it!), a water tower that is leaning like the Tower of Pisa, and a giant 200-foot cross signalling a church in a small town called Groom.

On Monday, we headed further along the route and crossed the landmark midway point – 1,139 miles to go! We then crossed another border into New Mexico – this one involved a timezone change – and stayed the night in Tucumcari at the Blue Swallow Motel, which was awesome: neon lights, family-owned, friendly atmosphere and very Route 66. A world away from the Econolodge we’ve stayed in with paper thin walls and a screaming baby on one side and a way too loud TV on the other! Then today we have travelled to Santa Fe, which is a beautiful city comprising plenty of Adobe and Adobe-style buildings. It’s hard to describe it without pictures, so I will upload some soon.

We have now made it to Gallup, still in New Mexico, where we are about to find somewhere to eat.